Jazz is full of grand experiments and leaps of faith. They happen whenever musicians meet on stage to perform, especially when they have never done so before. They happened tonight (Friday, March 30) in St. Paul, when Carole Martin and Debbie Duncan met at the Artists’ Quarter for an evening of song.
Backed soundly and solidly by Phil Aaron on piano, Jay Young on bass, and Kenny Horst at home behind his own drums in his own comfortable, hospitable club, the two great vocalists sang a program of standards—in Debbie’s words, “songs we didn’t write.” Some had been recorded by each of them on her own CDs: “I Concentrate on You,” “Don’t Misunderstand,” “Little Girl Blue.” Some they sang solo—among others, Debbie chose “Come Fly with Me” and “I Didn’t Know What Time,” Carole “Going Back to Joe’s” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
Separately, each did what she’s known for. Carole delivered her distinctive brand of warm, romantic, character-filled torch songs. Debbie gave us beautiful ballads, elastic scat and all-out soulful shouters. Both were in fine voice, and together they conjured what jazz brings on the nights the performers are very good and we the audience are very lucky—moments of pure magic and surprise. The duets (“My Buddy,” “W.O.M.A.N,” “Little Girl Blue”) were amazing.
Carole told us between sets that she and Debbie didn’t know in advance what to expect or what would happen. I confess—me neither. I had heard each separately several times, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what the two of them might sound like together. I expected excellence—both women are consummate professionals with a passion for their art who have mastered their craft—but I and everyone else at the AQ got more than that: one of those nights we’ll talk about in years to come as having been remarkable and truly special.
In addition to great singing, the evening was filled with Debbie’s on-stage banter, shared jokes between the two (they kept introducing themselves as each other—for those who were in the audience and truly don’t know, Carole has the platinum hair, Debbie has the dreads), genuine warmth, and a between-sets rock-star costume change. We were treated to lots of sparkle and glam (and Debbie’s fabulous second-set kicks, sweet strappy red things that did not go unnoticed by the women in the audience). Throughout, it was clear they enjoyed each other’s singing as much as we did.
Debbie and Carole have never performed together before; they have never recorded together. If the stars align, that may change, but for now, the only way to hear these remarkable singers in the same place at the same moment is to catch the Saturday set at the Artists’ Quarter on March 31. I hope you’re reading this in time to do that. Nine p.m., ten bucks. Go.